IDF paratrooper returns to Kotel to 'update' iconic photo

Watch: Jehuda Hartman was 22 on June 7, 1967 when he stood in awe at the liberated Western Wall; 44 years later, he recreates the shot.

By MORDECHAI I. TWERSKY
June 1, 2011 12:04
3 minute read.
Yehuda Hartman in 1967

Yehuda Hartman 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

It is among Israel’s most unforgettable images: a lone Israeli soldier, standing in awe at the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, moments after its liberation on June 7, 1967. 

Forty-four years later, that soldier, Jehuda Hartman, is now 66 years-old. He allowed Inside Israel to recreate that historic photograph taken by Micha Bar Am, and talked about his first, fateful encounter with the Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, which was the stuff of legends when he grew up in the divided city.

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“The entire day 44 years ago comes to my mind,” said Hartman, as he stood at the Kotel. “The first moment that we got here, the excitement. Trying to close the gap between something that was considered a myth and reality: to touch the stones with our hands, thinking that these stones were just imaginary a day before for me.”

On the morning of June 7th, 1967, Yehuda was a 22-year-old gunner in the paratroopers brigade. Battle-weary and stunned by his units heavy losses, Hartman was among the first Israeli soldiers to arrive at Kotel.

“It was amazement, it was excitement, it was a feeling of history, said Hartman, “something that happens once in a [life] time and I have the opportunity to be here, to take part in it.”

For Hartman, the Kotel has changed.

“The only thing that remained the same is the Kotel – the Wall itself,” said Hartman. “The surrounding environment changed totally. It was much more intimate, much more emotional, closed, small. You could feel the touch. Now it's open, public, and the feeling is different.”

Gone is the narrow alleyway at the base of the Kotel.  A watermark shows where the Kotel floor stood in 1967, yet Yehuda remembers precisely where he stood.  He points to the indentationin the Wall, that oonce bore a ceramic, Arab street sign, “Al Buraq,” named for Muhammad’s horse, a sign he saw   his fellow soldiers remove on the orders of General Moshe Dayan. 

Today, this living part of Jewish history spends part of his time studying Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University. This native of Budapest – whose mother, while pregnant with him, hid from the Nazis and narrowly escaped death – arrived in Israel at the age of five. He has a PhD in mathematics and is the recipient of Israel's prestigious Defense Prize. He is the father of four and grandfather of 14.

To his interview with Inside Israel, Hartman brought a large, canvas Jordanian map he had found only several feet from the Kotel on that fateful day in 1967-- a map that makes no reference to Israel. He also brought with him the blue skullcap he wore in the photograph. It was knitted by the grandmother of his girlfriend and future wife and given to him as a spare only moments before he went off to battle.

The soft-spoken, modest Hartman doesn't consider himself a hero. He says he's just a fortunate man who was in the right place at the right time.

For him, Jerusalem Day will always have special meaning.

“It means history, it means the distant past, but it means only my own experience,” he said. “Running here, coming here, arriving, surviving, means a lot personally, on top of all the other layers.”

Hartman's layers are so deep, that perhaps its best left for the image of him that has endured; an image  that's worth a thousand words and 2,000 years of Jewish history.


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